Winnie’s War by Jenny Moss

 Winnie lives with her family–mother, father, grandmother, and her younger sisters–in a small-town in Texas, near Galveston.  Her father is in charge of the local graveyard/burials.  Clara, her grandmother, handles the girls because their mother is withdrawn and emotionally scarred- never the same after the 1900 hurricane.  And Clara and Winnie butt heads like nobody’s business!

Winnie’s War takes place during the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. Winnie loves living in Coward Creek, and the war overseas barely enters her life.  But when the residents of the town begin falling ill, Winnie starts to panic.  Her young sister has breathing problems and Winnie knows she can’t afford to get sick.  Everyone is suddenly a potential carrier, someone to be avoided.  And when her father continues burying the victims, Winnie is torn between what she knows is right and what she knows she should do.  And as fair warning, I cried at the end!

This is a fantastic historical novel and perfect to read right now, with the H1N1 pandemic.  Jenny Moss does a great job of weaving the historical aspects of the flu epidemic into the story of Winnie.  The historical fiction aspect doesn’t take over the whole book, which sometimes turns off middle grade readers.  I would love to pair this with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793 and Jim Murphy’s An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 (Newbery Honor Book) for a neat set of “epidemic/pandemic” book clubs next year. As I realized during the H1N1 pandemic, most of my students have no background knowledge of past epidemics!  In fact, the only reason some of my girls knew about the Spanish influenze epidemic is because Edward’s parents (in TWILIGHT) died of the flu!  

I also think that my realistic fiction fans who enjoy “middle school” stories and coming-of-age tales will enjoy Winnie’s War.  Winnie is a typical middle schooler, despite the difference in eras.  She has a sweetheart, Nolan, whom she thinks she likes as more than a friend.  She struggles with mean girls at school.  And she has issues with her best friend.  Because Jenny Moss doesn’t beat you over the head with historical aspects of the book the story flows neatly and can almost seem to take place now.  I know how difficult that must be, but I think it paid off well!


Cover Art Curiosity

I am a nosy little bugger who loves getting the “inside scoop”.  That’s why I loved YA author Melissa Walker’s series this week, Cover Stories.  Every day she interviewed a different author about the story behind their book’s cover.  Every story is different and each one is fascinating.  I had no idea that some cover models are used on more than one book!  Or that the models themselves don’t always know when their likeness has been used.

Melissa Walker interviews Sarah Dessen about the cover for Along for the Ride, Siobhan Vivian about Same Difference, Beth Kephart about Nothing but Ghosts, Jenny Han about the cover of The Summer I Turned Pretty, and Sara Zarr about Story of a Girl and Sweethearts. So cool! Plus, you can enter a contest each day to win a copy of the author’s book. And don’t forget to check out Melissa Walker’s newest book, Lovestruck Summer.

Poetry Friday

My students handed in their multi-genre poetry anthologies this week and I am enjoying reading them.  One of the requirements was to include at least three “choice” pieces- poems, songs, quotes, short excerpts from memoirs and stories, etc.  One of my students included the following poem and it really tugged at my heartstrings.


I wish someone would tell me
What it is I have done wrong,
And why I must be chained outside
And left alone so long.

They seemed so glad to have me
When I came here as a pup,
There were so many things we’d do
While I was growing up.

The master said he’d train me
As a companion and a friend,
The mistress said she’d never fear
To be alone again.

The children said they’d feed me
And brush me everyday,
They’d play with me and walk me
If I would only stay.

But now the master hasn’t time
The mistress says I shed,
She won’t allow me in the house
Not even to be fed.

The children never walk me
They always say, “not now!”,
I do wish I could please them
Can someone tell me how?

All I had, you see, was love
I wish someone would explain
Just why the said they wanted mine
And then left it on a chain……

Author Unknown

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Matthew has five rules of survival:

“1. Sometimes, the people who mean you harm are the ones who say they love you.
2. Fear is your friend. When you feel it, act.
3. Protect the little ones.
4. If you coped before, you can cope now.
5. Always remember, in the end, the survivor gets to tell the story.”


Matthew has spent the last seventeen years standing between his abusive mother and his two younger sisters.  His father is afraid of Nikki and hasn’ t been around in years (though he sends his child support checks faithfully).  The children’s aunt lives downstairs and is also a frequent victim of Nikki’s verbal and emotional abuse.


The Rules of Survival is told as a retrospective, a letter from Matt to his youngest sister, Emmy.  Clearly manic, their mother latches onto Emmy as her primary victim.  But when she begins dating Murdoch, life seems normal.  The dad they never had, all three kids immediately fall in love with him.  They spend nights watching tv at his house, they have picnics on the beach, and he is a better parent than they ever had before.  Nikki soon becomes jealous of the attention Murdoch showers on the children and breaks up with him.  So begins a downward spiral for Nikki and her kids.


This is a haunting depiction of child abuse as experienced by a young boy.  Only seventeen years old, he is far older inside thanks to what he has experienced.  Matthew is writing the story as a letter to Emmy, in case she ever has questions about their life with Nikki.  He doesn’t know if he will ever have the courage to give it to her, but he knows he needs to write it down.  There were points in the story when I had to put the book down- Nikki is manic and abusive.  The way she treats her kids is absolutely terrifying.  Nancy Werlin’s writing manages to make you feel like you are right their with Matthew, seeing what is happening to him and his sisters.  

I booktalked this to my students and they were very receptive.  It’s slowly making the rounds with my biggest realistic fiction fans and is opening their eyes to a world they didn’t know existed.  Despite the heavy themes, the vocabulary is simple and not over the heads of my sixth-graders.  But this is a story that needs to be read and shared, as there are too many children out there today who live the life that Matthew describes.  

Amazing Experience

I have no voice but tonight was completely worth it.  My teaching team coordinated a fundraiser at a local restaurant where 20% of the checks from tonight will go to our local Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center.  I was at the restaurant from 4:45-8:30 and we had a huge turnout!  We gave out 86 sign-in sheets to our students.  Eighty-six!  Plus we had former students, teachers from throughout the district, and administration.  

It was a fantastic night spent with our students and parents.  Like I said, I currently have no voice, but I think we raised a great deal of money to donate when we go to the museum on our class trip later this week.  It was an amazing feeling seeing our students and their families eating dinner together and making time in their day for such a great cause.  🙂

News from Around the Blogosphere

What an insanely busy day today.  With state testing starting next week, this week is crazy.  Tomorrow, my team at school is hosting a fundraiser for the Holocaust Genocide and Human Rights Education Center that our students will be visiting soon.  And I am hurrying to finish an assortment of books so that I can booktalk them to my students before standardized testing.  Testing is the perfect time to hook kids on a book, because when the finish their choices are to sit and stare at the wall or read a book.  And I strongly encourage them to read, rather than space.  😉

In light of my crazy to-do list, I have a review list that is backed up to last Wednesday.  Or somewhere thereabouts.  In the meantime, here is some news from around the blogosphere:

  • Donalyn Miller’s recent post about reading during testing certainly hit home.  My favorite part of testing – ok, really the only thing I like about testing- is watching my students open up their novels when they close their test booklets.  Those of you heading into testing season should take a moment and read this!
  • If you missed any of GottaBooks Thirty Poets/Thirty Days, be sure to check out Gregory K.’s wrap-up post. With poets like Marilyn Singer, Adam Rex, Nikki Grimes, and so many more- this is one not to be missed!
  • YPulse has a survey up which makes me very happy.  They polled tweens about their reading habits and I think many people will be surprised at some of the results.  90% of the tweens who responded say they “enjoy reading”.  Yay!
  • The kidlitosphere is a wonderful place and everyone takes care of each other.  Right now, there is a wonderful opportunity to help out one of our own: The Auction for Bridget Zinn.  

Three things happened to Bridget in February:
1. She got an agent for her young adult novel.
2. She got married.
3. She found out she had Stage Four colon cancer.  

From the website:

 Bridget is dealing with an ugly reality that is all too common in America today.  Even when you have insurance that covers most things, it doesn’t cover everything.  Medscape reports, “The cost of treating colorectal cancer has skyrocketed over the past 5 years or so, and the costs of new agents and regimens have risen 340-fold.”

Here’s how you can help.  A group of writers who have been impressed with Bridget’s friendliness and what can only be described as her radiant joy (even now) has banded together to help Bridget with the costs she faces.  One of the activities will be an online auction. 


Please check out the auction.  All of the items up for bidding are amazing!  And this is a wonderful opportunity to help out an amazing person.  Please check it out!

This Month’s Most Popular Book

About half of the students in my morning class are currently obsessed with Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman. My ARC has been passed around and 10 of my students purchased their own copy at the recent Scholastic book sale. In fact, the PTA had to order additional copies once my class bought all of them out!  Needless to say, Patrick Carman’s ghost story is a hit.  They are raving about this one! - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

Reading a book that melds the written word and the digital world has made our reading time interesting and a little different than I am used to. At first, I was worried about having students view the videos in school, afraid that it would disrupt their classmates’ reading. I began by allowing one student on the computer at a time, wearing headphones, to view the videos as they reached them in the book. Soon enough, I had a student on each computer, each watching a different video. It has workedout great! The kids absolutely love the book and I love that Skeleton Creek has brought the 21st century into our daily reading time.

The videos also serve as hooks for some of my more dormant readers.  They can’t help but be intrigued by the shaky camera work, the creepy noises, and the whole setup of the video entries.  I see them as they watch the videos over the back of a classmate, pretending they aren’t eaveswatching.  With no sound (the reader has headphones on), they become even more intrigued.  Inevitably, they begin talking to their classmates about the book and soon enough add their name to the waiting list for our classroom copy.  It’s happened more than once!

Reviews have been positive across the board from the students who have completed the book.  They can’t wait for the second book to come out and are thrilled that Skeleton Creek won’t be a standalone title. I even have a few who are beginning to explore in the meantime!